What Kind of Teacher Are You?

Many people who decide they want to teach English as a Second Language do not consider all of their options. Teaching ESL is a broad term. There are dozens of ESL disciplines, and a wide range of class types. Which of these are you best suited for?

Before you start applying for jobs and going to interviews, take a few moments to think about your personality. It may even help to take a personality test. Have you ever thought about whether you are introverted or extroverted? Just because you prefer small groups, or working alone doesn't mean you can't work in the ESL field. It may just mean you will be more comfortable teaching smaller classes or even private lessons. Alternatively, you may start teaching and realize after a few months that you are drawn to an ESL office job such as curriculum planning.

Are you a teacher who likes to stand at the front and be the head of a class, or do you prefer to mingle and help students out individually? Does the thought of standing in a classroom all day, make you feel claustrophobic? You might want to consider schools that offer holiday courses and regular excursions. Some schools use the communicative approach, where learning English outside of the classroom is compulsory. If you are truly drawn to the ESL field, there is a job out there designed with you in mind.

Personality Traits

There are certain personality traits, such as being friendly and patient, that are required of all teachers. Other traits, such as being open-minded, are important for ESL teachers in general. Teaching may come more naturally to people who have many of the traits in the following list. Personality, however, is not something that remains static throughout a career. If you are willing to let them, your students will bring out the personality traits you need to become a better teacher. Here are some qualities that students look for in ESL teachers:

  • bilingual (or studying a second language)
  • confident
  • consistent
  • creative
  • detail oriented
  • flexible
  • friendly
  • funny
  • good listener
  • independent
  • logical
  • motivated
  • motivating
  • objective
  • organized
  • outgoing
  • patient
  • resourceful
  • respectful
  • sensitive
  • sympathetic
  • strong speaker
  • well-rounded

Types of ESL Classes

Those going into the ESL teaching field often focus on where they want to teach. With so many job postings around the world, the choices can be overwhelming. However, it is also important to think about what you want to teach. Consider the following chart before you sort through the job postings. Keep in mind that, like any field, specializing becomes easier once you have a little experience on your resume.

Type of Class Brief Description Teacher Traits
Adults Students range from post-secondary students to professionals to retired and elderly. funny, confident, well-educated, organized
Advanced learners Students communicate effectively in English, and are working towards fluency. confident, detail oriented, organized, well-educated, able to handle random questions well
Beginners Students have little or no English background. energetic, supportive, patient, bilingual (helps), resourceful
Business learners Students are generally employed or hoping to find work in an environment where English is commonly used; may be immigrants. See here for English at Work Series well-educated, organized, strong speaker, detail oriented
Communicative Approach Classes School emphasizes listening and speaking skills. Goal is to teach students to communicate efficiently in English, rather than to perfect grammar and usage. resourceful, strong speaker, original, energetic
Computers Students may be multi-level in both English and computer skills. patient, strong speaker, strong computer skills, resourceful
Core Courses The school often provides most of the material for teaching. Whole language is often taught. dependent, likes structure, funny, reliable
English Media Students study English through watching and listening to movies, television, news, and other media. creative, resourceful, good with technology, motivating
Exam Prep Classes such as TOEIC, TOEFL, IELTS, where the students are preparing to take a specific exam. detail oriented, likes structure, organized, well educated, good understanding of grammar and usage
Excursion or Holiday Courses Students may be on a short holiday to a foreign country, where English is the first language. Class usually involves recreation, site seeing, and studying. outdoorsy, creative, funny, supportive, energetic
Immigrants Student demographic varies. Funding may be provided. Classes can be quite large. Materials may be limited. supportive, open minded, well-rounded, sensitive, intuitive
Intermediate learners Students have some English background, and can communicate their needs and basic ideas. Students are familiar with a lot of vocabulary and some grammar usage, including present and past tense. outgoing, creative, strong speaker, intuitive
Large Classes Ranges from 10-40+ students. Often taught as part of a public school, college or university. assertive, confident, funny, open minded
Listening Classes Students generally have the same level of English. Course helps students improve listening skills through various activities. creative, good with technology, doesn't mind repetition, patient
Multi-cultural Students do not all have the same first language. supportive, open minded, well-traveled, resourceful
Multi-level Students range greatly in English ability. Age and culture may also cover a wide range. extremely dedicated, patient, resourceful, leader
Private lessons Teacher often has to do his or her own marketing and must prepare own materials. resourceful, introverted, detail oriented, motivating
Pronunciation Classes Students are generally intermediate or beginners, but class may be multi-level. Student goal is to improve clarity of speech and to sound more like "native speakers." clear, slow speaker, patient, creative, doesn't mind repetition, good with technology, outgoing
Small Classes Intimate setting; ranges from about 3-7 students. motivated, emotional, supportive, adaptable, creative, may be introverted
Writing Classes Students may have varying English skills. Focus is on improving sentence structure, broadening vocabulary, and organizing written thoughts. Students may be preparing for standardized exam essays. good understanding of grammar, motivating, creative, may be introverted, detail oriented
Young Learners Students may range from 6 months to 17 years. Caregivers may be part of the class. patient, creative, flexible, artistic

Job Shadow or Volunteer

A supervised teaching practicum, which is often a requirement for TESL certification, offers more than a good job reference. A practicum can also help you see your strengths and weaknesses in various classroom settings. Did you enjoy the large group of teenagers, or did you prefer the attention and enthusiasm of the adults? What about the lesson planning? Did it feel like a chore to write a lesson plan on the present perfect tense? Perhaps you'd enjoy a class that was more communicative. Many TESL certification courses require limited teaching hours in a single classroom setting. If you are serious about teaching ESL as a career, it is a good idea to volunteer in other classrooms on your own time. Visit schools in your area, and approach the managers about job shadow opportunities. Just sitting in on a variety of classes can give you an idea of what type of teaching you will be naturally suited to.

Job Satisfaction

It is normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure of your job during a probationary period. It can take up to three months to feel comfortable with your colleagues, students, and teaching materials. If you are also getting used to living and working in a foreign country, this period may be even longer. However, if you feel you've given your job a fair chance, and you still have more bad days than good, it may be time to reconsider your options. Instead of quitting teaching altogether, why not search for a classroom or school that is more suited to your personality.

If you are unsatisfied with a particular job posting, your students may also be unsatisfied with your teaching effort. Some teachers blame their unhappiness on the school, but find that changing schools does not fix the problem. If you are satisfied with the school you are at, consider requesting a class change. Tell your administrators why you think your personality and interests make you better suited for teaching a different level or specialty class.